Shedding some Light on Cannabinoid use in Animals

by | Jun 14, 2018 | General Veterinary Rehabilitation

We’re privileged to live in a time of scientific discovery and exploration into fascinating and diverse fields, including pharmacology. The medicinal use of cannabinoids is an area traditionally shunned, but this view is beginning to change as new information on its interactions in our bodies comes to light, and as many grow increasingly disenchanted with mainstream medications.

It is no surprise that the use of cannabinoids is increasing in the pet industry.

Many pet owners and healthcare practitioners are interested in incorporating cannabis oil into their homes and practices, but may be overwhelmed by the volume of information available, some of it contradictory. This blog hopes to clear up some of that confusion and simplify the process of selecting cannabinoid products that work for our pets and patients.


Cannabis is a group of plants containing high levels of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, present in marijuana, responsible for the well-known altered mental state or ‘high’. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, found in high levels in hemp products. With its low THC and a high CBD concentration, hemp is the plant most commonly used.

Hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC, valued for its high omega 3 and 6 content, and for its other healthy fatty acids.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or from a cannabis plant with a wider cannabinoid profil. CBD extracted from hemp will have less than 0.3% THC. CBD extracted from a cannabis plant will have a full spectrum of cannabinoids.

When we’re looking for a medicinal product for ourselves or our pets, what we want is essentially a product low in THC and high in CBD. We still want a small concentration of THC, as this cannabinoid is valuable in the treatment of conditions like pain, cancer and appetite stimulation. Too much THC and we start to see negative effects in dogs, such as noise sensitivity, incontinence and a stumbling gait. The production process plays a role in the state of the THC, as heat changes its chemical composition, creating a stronger psychoactive response.

When it comes to the different cannabinoids and their individual properties, the more we learn, the more we know we don’t know.


Cannabinoids interact with a system of receptors in the body known as the endocannabinoid  system (ECS), which forms a part of the central and peripheral nervous system. The ECS is involved in the regulation of a variety of psychological and cognitive processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory. In other words, the ECS is essential for the maintenance of homeostasis in our bodies and mental faculties.

Endocannabinoids are naturally produced in the body and interact with the endocannabinoid receptors to regulate and maintain the body systems responsible for sleep, appetite, mood, pain and memory to name a few.

THC mimics our natural endocannabinoids and binds directly to ECS cell receptors, which can be invaluable in the treatment of seizures and epilepsy. CBD has a receptor-independent action which allows modulation of inflammation through the COX and LOX pathways, the regulation of calcium (essential for pain reduction) and the boosting of gabba receptor efficiency, which reduces anxiety.

From this brief explanation, one can see that cannabinoids have a tremendous number of actions in the body and are useful for treating a variety of conditions.


For dogs, products containing CBD are most commonly used to treat:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Age-related changes in behaviour
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty sleeping and anxiety
  • Behavioural problems
  • Cancer

In cats, CBD is most commonly used to treat:

  • Pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cancer

While laboratory tests for other species are still lacking, it does seem that cannabis products have a good safety margin across species.


An area of caution is the interaction between cannabinoids and drugs that uses the CYP 450 metabolic pathway. Such drugs may significantly increase or decrease the serum concentration of cannabinoids. Interestingly, cannabinoids’ drug interactions seem to be mostly good, in that they tend to increase the efficacy of other drugs, making it possible to decrease the dosage and achieve the same response. When cannabis is used in conjunction with radiation, for example, the radiation is more effective at killing cancer cells, and healthy cells sustain less damage than when cannabis is absent.


The most common forms of cannabinoids are lipid soluble, so a product with a lipid base will increase the cannabis’ solubility and availability to the body. The oil is easy to administer to pets and remains bioavailable.

Tinctures are alcohol based, which may increase the speed of their absorption, but they are unpalatable to pets. The extraction process also requires heating which may change the cannabinoid profile, making it less desirable.


As there is currently no control over the quality or labelling of products, the best advice is to get a lab analysis from the producer of the product you plan to use. You’ll want to see the following on their lab analysis:

  • a high concentration of CBD
  • a low concentration of THC
  • a CBD:THC ratio of 18:1 or 20:1
  • an absence  of pesticides and fungicides
  • the bacterial and fungal profile


The rule of thumb is start low and go slow, basing your dosage on experience with your animal.

Recommendations are to start at 1mg per kg of body mass, and slowly increase until you see the desired effect. If side effects such as drowsiness, incontinence or stumbling become apparent, decrease the dosage. 1 to 2mg per kg of body mass is the current recommendation.

Thank you to the Veterinary Cannabis Academy for their input on cannabis use in animals, and for their ongoing research and dedication to the health and wellbeing of our pets.

You can listen to our podcast with Steven and Liz from the Veterinary Cannabis Academy here.

Click here to visit the Veterinary Cannabis Academy.


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